Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Advent: Hope or Delusion?” Thomas Merton


“Advent: Hope or Delusion?”

Thomas Merton

The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.

It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendencey to regard Christmas, consciously or otherwise, as a return to our own innocence and our own infancy. Advent should remind us that the “King Who is to Come” is more than a charming infant smiling (or if you prefer a dolorous spirituality, weeping) in the straw. There is certainly nothing wrong with the traditional family jours of Christmas, nor need we be ashamed to find ourselves still able to anticipate them without too much ambivalence. After all, that in itself is no mean feat.

But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man, of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent…

In our time, what is lacking is not so much the courage to ask this question as the courage to expect an answer…We may at times be able to show the world Christ in moments when all can clearly discern in history, some confirmation of the Christian message. But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Parable of the Talents

I enjoy reading “vocation” stories, especially stories of those who are called into the religious life. Sr. Brigid Ancilla Marie is a Sister of life, an order instituted by John Cardinal O’Connor of New York. She tells the story of her younger sister Rachel. When Sister Brigid was seven years old, Rachel was born. Rachel fulfilled the dream of every girl - to have a little sister to play with and love. But Rachel was different. She was born with a deletion in Chromosome 8, a genetic defect unique to her which is manifested through spina bifida, and a number of other small disorders.  Rachel was not expected to live one day, but today she is a happy eighteen years old.   Sr. Brigid’s dream was to become a medical doctor. After college, Sister applied to medical school - but was rejected. She decided to stay home, and become a full-time “home health aide” for her sister.  She would take care of Rachel from the time she got home from school - until she went to bed. She came to know her sister deeply, to learn to communicate with her in her silence - and to love her from the depths of her being, a participation in the pure, complete love of the Trinity. Through her caring of Rachel, Sr. Brigid’s life was marked by God, revealing the mystery of who He is, thereby revealing to Sr. Brigid her own identity, and her own personal vocation, her GIFT of sharing - and love for others. The Lord spoke to her heart – she let go of her dream of being a medical doctor, and pursued a vocation to be a religious, a Sister of Life, vowing protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life. All is grace, all is gift. Our parable today is all about “gifts.” The gifts God gives us – and what we are to do with them.

Jesus tells us the story of a man who is going on a long journey. He trusts his servants to care for his possessions. The scripture calls these possessions “talents.” Talents were a form of money, weighty money, like an ingot or brick of silver or gold. Each “talent” would be invaluable. So, he leaves these “talents” with his servants “the amount according to each of their abilities. To one servant he gives five, this is great wealth. To one he gives two, to another – one. The first two servants take a risk; they invest the talents, double the money, and make a rich return.  The servant with one, out of fear, buries the “talent”, no risk, no return. When the master arrives, he is full of joy - seeing what the first two servants had done. He promotes them, giving them more responsibilities. But when he sees that the servant with one talent had done nothing with it, he erupts in anger, sending the servant into the darkness.

 What is Jesus teaching us here – the “man or master” represents Christ - the servants are the disciples, you and me. The “talents” are the gifts given to us by God. God, as Trinity, is GIFT in his very being – the love the Father has for the Son, the love the son has for the Father, the relationship being the Holy Spirit. We are made in God’s image, we too are GIFT.

Whatever God gives us, is meant to become a “gift.” God has bestowed on us innumerable gifts - life, breath, being, intellect, our will, and our emotions.  These gifts are manifested in many different ways, gifts of teaching, healing, nurturing, forgiveness, mercy, loving others as Christ loves us, and of course, FAITH. These gifts we do not own; we are called to be good stewards, to use them for the “greater Glory of God.” 

We may say, what is MY gift? What is MY personal vocation? We recognize our gifts in the same way as Sister Brigid did, by our life experience, prayer, spiritual direction, discernment. 

St. John Paul II said "God - with his call - reaches the heart of each individual, and the Spirit, who abides deep within each disciple, gives himself to each Christian with different charisms and special signs. Each one, therefore, must be helped to embrace the gift - entrusted to him - as a completely unique person, and to hear the words which the Spirit of God personally address to him" (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 1992).

The first two servants in the parable were willing to risk, investing the talents, giving them away, hence doubling the wealth. If we desire Gods life, his grace in us, we must be conformed to HIS way of being.  Gifts, which come from God, are meant to be given, if not, they will wither away. 

Jesus says “To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Now I would think that most of us here in this Church are baptized Christians. Do we realize how blessed we are - for at our baptism, we received the greatest gift of all – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The seed of faith was planted. Now that our faith has matured, what are we to do with it? Do we keep it inside? Are we like the servant with one talent who was afraid to risk, to give? That servant lost everything. 

Faith increases in the measure that we share it. It’s not easy for us today to share our faith as it is always under attack. Life attacks our faith, the loss of a loved one, unemployment, sickness. Many times we are tempted to think that there is no God at all. That’s ok, take a risk. Put your faith out there, open it up to ridicule. 

The Lord is watching us – St. Paul says “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” “Stay alert and sober”.

Hear the words of the Psalmist today “Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.”

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

My fellow Christians, today is the birthday of this church, an occasion for celebration and rejoicing. We, however, ought to be the true and living temple of God. Nevertheless, Christians rightly commemorate this feast of the church, their mother, for they know that through her they were reborn in the spirit. At our first birth, we were vessels of God’s wrath; reborn, we became vessels of his mercy. Our first birth brought death to us, but our second restored us to life.
  Indeed, before our baptism we were sanctuaries of the devil; but after our baptism we merited the privilege of being temples of Christ. And if we think more carefully about the meaning of our salvation, we shall realise that we are indeed living and true temples of God. God does not dwell only in things made by human hands, nor in homes of wood and stone, but rather he dwells principally in the soul made according to his own image and fashioned by his own hand. Therefore, the apostle Paul says: The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.
 A sermon of St Caesarius of Arles